The Immaculate Conception of Mary Defined
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary states that at the first instance of Mary’s conception she was preserved from original sin, thereby not contracting it. Therefore, her conception was immaculate or pure. This teaching was officially given dogmatic status and defined by Romanism in 1854 when Pope Pius IX declared the following in the bull Ineffabilis Deus:
"We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful” (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus).
Further explanation of this doctrine can be found in the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated by Pope John Paul II. It states:
“To become the mother of the Savior, Mary ‘was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.’ The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as ‘full of grace’. . . . Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. . . . The ‘splendour of an entirely unique holiness’ by which Mary is ‘enriched from the first instant of her conception’ comes wholly from Christ: she is redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., pp. 137-138 par. 490-492).
Thus, in Roman theology Mary did not contract a sin nature like all other humans do at conception. She was therefore sinless due to her alleged preservation from original sin. There are many biblical problems with this doctrine to be covered.
Positive Arguments against the Immaculate Conception
A text which shows Mary was not free from sin and hence was not preserved from a sinful nature is Luke 2:48-49. In this text Mary reproaches and complains to Jesus, who is God. Since reproaching or complaining to God is a sin according to Scripture, this means Mary sinned and thus was not preserved its stain:
"48And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress." 49And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"" (Luke 2:48-49).
That reproaching or complaining to God is a sin is evident in Jude 1:16 where being a complainer (Gk. Mempsimoiroi) is spoken against as sin. Moreover, Romans 9:20 says, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” clearly showing that answering back to God is sinful. The literal Greek is “reply against God” and that is what Mary did to Jesus with her questioning and complaining rebuke of Him.
Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown noted, “Mary's complaining question in v. 48 seems to be a reproach to Jesus” (Raymond Brown, Mary in the New Testament, [Paulist Press, 1978], p. 160). Again, reproaching God in this complaining way is sinful according to Scripture. What is more, New Testament scholar William Hendriksen explains the force of Mary’s sinful rebuke against God the Son:
“Mary’s exclamation begins with the word Son or Child. It is not at all unnatural, in connection with deeply emotional occasions, that a mother even today will address her offspring by exclaiming “Child!” though that son or daughter may have reached the age of 12 or even 20.
The words, ‘Why have you treated us like this?’ etc., reveal a medley of surprise, reproach, and anguish. Was Mary forgetting, for the moment, what Gabriel had told her about this child? If she had reflected on the words of Luke 1:30-35, would she have been so surprised and . . . almost indignant?” (William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke, New Testament Commentary, [Baker Book House, 1978], p. 185).
Mark 3:20-21, 31-32; 6:4
In Mark 3:20-21, 31 Mary and others in Jesus’ family accuse Jesus of being out of His mind which a sinful accusation. To say God is out of His mind is certainly a sin since that borders on mockery or at the very least disrespect. In the context Jesus enters a house being followed by a crowd who wants him to do miracles. Jesus was so preoccupied with them that he couldn’t even eat. Due to this over-working His family said he was out of his mind: “20Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, "He is out of his mind” (Mark 2:20-21).
That Mary was part of the family mentioned here who accused Jesus of being insane is evidenced by the fact that after we’re told about interchange with the Scribes from vv. 23-30 we are given the identity of Jesus’ family that called him insane and who wanted to seize him out of that situation in vv. 20-21. Verses 31-32 explain: “31And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you” (Mark 3:31-32).
Scholars note vv. 31-32 which mention Mary is a backward resuming of vv. 20-21 where Jesus’ family calls Him crazy. Thus Mary is part of the group known as Jesus’ relatives or family who called him crazy in vv. 20-21. Now then, even if one is not totally convinced Mark is saying Mary believed, along with the others, Jesus to be insane, what is indisputable is that, as William L. Lane notes, “Her presence with Jesus’ brothers in Ch. 3:31, however, indicates that her faith was insufficient to resist the determination of her sons to restrain Jesus and bring him home” (William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark: The English Text With Introduction, Exposition, and Notes, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1974], p. 139). Mary’s faith being insufficient is a fault or sin. Faithlessness or having little faith or doubt is repeatedly condemned and looked down upon in Holy Scripture as sin (e.g. 2 Chronicles 30:7; Psalms 119:158; Jeremiah 3:12; Matthew 8:26; Matthew 14:31; Romans 14:23; James 1:6).
Going further, in 6:4 of Mark we read, “And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household’” (Mark 6:4). This indicates those in his household did not honor Him properly at times. That includes Mary which is why Romish scholar Richard P. McBrien goes so far as to say “We find a somewhat negative portrait of Mary in the Gospel of Mark. . .” (Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism: Completely Revised & Updated, [HarperCollins, 1994], p. 1079). Not honouring or highly esteeming God is a sin and contrary to God’s word (1 Sam. 2:30; Jn. 8:49; Rom. 1:21; Rev. 4:11).
Romans 3:9-10, 23
In Romans 3:9-18 Paul explains the universal sinfulness of humanity (i.e., both Jews and Greeks) in his lead up to the fact that justification through Christ is the solution for this sin problem. Verse 9 says, “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already accused all people, both Jews and Greeks, of being under sin” (Romans 3:9). After establishing that all Jews and Greeks are under sin, which means “to be under its sway and condemnation,” (Everett F. Harrison, Romans, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version, [Zondervan, 1976], p. 38), or as Douglas J. Moo puts it “they are helpless captives to its power” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996], p. 201), Paul then emphasizes the universality of human sin in light of that: “10As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one’. . . . 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23).
Paul is very clear that all Jews and non-Jews are under the power of sin, no one is truly righteous, not one, and all have sinned rendering humanity in need of Christ. This calls into question Mary’s alleged sinlessness and Immaculate Conception in light of sin’s universality here, along with Paul’s non-mention of Mary’s alleged sinlessness in his letters. Those things taken together provide a powerful case that Mary was not born without sin.
A common response to this argument is that if Romans 3 proves Mary was a sinner because all sin, then it also proves Jesus was a sinner. Since this verse can’t mean that Jesus was a sinner (as Scripture teaches He was sinless) that proves exceptions are possible. Thus, the argument says there is no reason to think these texts make it necessary to believe Mary was a sinner.
However, the problem with this approach is that it does not take into consideration that Paul himself excludes Jesus from the “all have sinned” group in v. 23, but does not do the same concerning Mary. Right after v. 23 Paul presents Jesus as the unique solution to the problem of man’s sin problem in vv. 24-25, proving He does not fall into the global class of sinners by virtue of his nature as the divine sacrifice:
"23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:23-25).
According to the context of Romans 3 Jesus, the spotless/sinless Passover lamb (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Peter 1:19), is the remedy for humanity’s universal sinfulness who goes to the cross, not one who is himself under sin. Since Paul excludes Christ from v. 23 for us in vv. 24-25, we don’t have to merely assume he excludes Christ and then leap to the false conclusion that he must have excluded Mary as well. Paul doesn’t leave us to guess at possible exceptions to the rule. He excludes Christ specifically for us in the proceeding verses, but he doesn’t exclude Mary or anyone else anywhere in his letters. This leaves us with the conclusion that it is presupposed the unique God-man (Rom. 9:5) is the only exception to “all have sinned.”
Another twofold response to Romans 3 is given by Roman apologist Karl Keating who argues that Romans 3:23’s statement “all have sinned” either refers to the personal sins of the “mass of mankind” but not to every individual (young children, special cases, and Mary being excluded individually). Or he says the text may refer to every individual being subject to original sin but not personal sin. He concedes this would be true of even Mary but that “she, although due to be subject to it, was preserved from its stain” (Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on "Romanism" by "Bible Christians", [Ignatius Press, 1988], p. 271).
However, regarding the first objection it must be noted that Paul is referring to individual man and not the mass of mankind in some general sense where numerous exceptions are possible. We know this because in the context of Romans 3 Paul is clear he is referring to every individual. For example three verses prior to v. 23 he says “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). Verse 10, again, likewise emphasizes the utter totality of human sin: “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Therefore, it is impossible for Paul to not be speaking in an individual sense. Also, for Keating to assume the biblical writers believed young children were without personal sin is erroneous since Scripture is clear that due to having a sinful nature even young children and infants commit personal sin (e. g. Gen. 8:21; Job 14:4; Psalms 51:5, 58:3).
Concerning Keating’s second objection that this text refers not to personal sin but to all being under original sin (or being considered a sinners in Adam), and that Mary was due to be subject to original sin but was preserved, a number comments are necessary. Although the theme of man being considered a sinner due to being “in Adam” (i.e., being guilty or blamed for his sin, or our participation in Adam’s sin) is treated elsewhere, that is not what Paul is talking about in Romans 3:23. The original Greek word for “sinned” in the phrase “all have sinned” is hēmarton and it is an aorist tense known as a “summary aorist”. The summary aorist is here “gathering up the sins of people throughout the past into a single ‘moment’” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, New International Commentary on the New Testament, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1996], p. 226 n. 32). Hence, the verse is not speaking about original sin or our participation in Adam’s sin but to personal sins of men. So Keating’s second line of argument can not work. The case remains strong for all humans without exception being sinners which would include Mary.
Historian and theologian Philip Schaff offers some biblical rationality on the issue: “she is nowhere in the New Testament excepted from the universal sinfulness and the universal need of redemption, and represented as immaculately holy, or as in any way an object of divine veneration” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, [Hendrickson, 2011], p. 412).
Despite the overwhelming evidence establishing Mary was a sinner who was in need of a saviour during her lifetime, Roman authorities still maintain she was completely without sin. As Roman Catholic scholar and priest Robert J. Fox claimed in his work The Marian Catechism: “Mary never committed the slightest sin. God made her full of grace. Mary never committed the smallest sin because she was very holy” (Robert J. Fox, The Marian Catechism, [AMI Press, 1983], p. 21).
Answer to Positive Catholic Arguments
Catholic scholar Ludwig Ott conceded, “The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is not explicitly revealed in Scripture” (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, [Tan books and publishers, 1960], p. 200). Therefore, we must now turn to the alleged implicit biblical proof Catholics cite in favour of this teaching.
In Luke 1:28 the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and announces she will give birth to Jesus Christ. Contained in the angelic greeting we see a very small statement which Rome has used as the basis to set up the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The text states:
“And he came to her and said, "Greetings [or “Hail”], O favored one [or “full of grace,” Douay Rheims translation], the Lord is with you!" (Luke 1:28).
The Greek word for “Greetings” or “Hail” as the Douay Rheims has it is Chaire. Contrary to the common abuse of this angelic greeting in Catholic prayer and piety the word here does not mean “Hail Mary” in the sense that Romans would say “Hail Caesar” in allegiance to him or something of that nature. There is no connotation of exalted saluting or allegiance in the greeting, though the word can, in a way, convey that type of meaning sometimes (Matt. 27:29; Jn. 19:3). Chaire here, according to the context, simply means “rejoice” so notes Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, [Thomas Nelson, 1996], p. 287. This is why certain translations will actually put “Rejoice” (NJB, HCSB, WEB); NJB being the Roman Catholic New Jerusalem Bible.
Gabriel greeted Mary by exhorting her to, or telling her to rejoice because, as the verse states, “the Lord is with you” as well as the fact that she was highly favored. We are not to hail Mary, Mary is to hail or rejoice. There is, as many scholars note, allusion to Old Testament texts where saints clearly rejoiced over the coming Messiah as well (e. g. Zephaniah 3:14-18; Zechariah 9:9; Lamentations 4:21). The same form chaire is used in the ancient Greek translations of those texts known as the Septuagint. This persuades many scholars that chaire in Luke 1:28 means rejoice and not “Hail.” Robert Gundry offers some sobering insight:
“Ordinarily, the greeting, ‘Rejoice’ meant no more than ‘Hello.’ But the following address, ‘favored one,’ and declaration, ‘the Lord [is] is with you,’ suggests the stronger, literal translation, ‘Rejoice,’ because the Lord’s favour and personal presence are matters to get happy about” (Robert Gundry, Commentary on the New Testament, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2010], p. 224).
Hence, there is no basis for Catholics to misuse and abuse the phrase “Hail Mary” in an idolatrous way based on this text (i.e., in this sense: “praise Mary,” “exalt Mary,” or “glorify Mary”).
Again, Gabriel was telling Mary to “rejoice” or “Hail.” He wasn’t saying the equivalent of “I praise you Mary” or “I Hail you Mary.” Thus, when Catholics “Hail Mary” instead of telling her to “Hail” or “rejoice” like Gabriel did, they are distorting the original intent of Scripture.
Roman Misuse of kecharitōmenē
Regarding the Greek word kecharitōmenē which is either rendered “favored one,” “highly favored” (ESV, NASB, NIV, NLT, ISV, KJV, ASV, ERV, NJB etc), or conversely “full of grace” (DRB, ABPE) as many Catholics prefer, considerable focus is appropriate. This is the word many Romanists teach supports the teaching that Mary was immaculately conceived.
The common argument is presented in Fr. Settimio M. Manelli’s essay The Virgin Mary in the New Testament from the book Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons. He argues,
“This word is a perfect passive participle, translated as full of grace, or as fore-loved, privileged, gratified. As a perfect passive participle, the Greek word means ‘to be enriched by grace in a stable, lasting way.’ In fact, the Greek perfect denotes an action completed in the past, whose effects perdure. Hence, the angel greets Mary by announcing that she has been enriched by grace in the past and that the effects of this gift remain” (Settimio M. Manelli’s essay The Virgin Mary in the New Testament, ed. Mark I. Miravalle, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, [Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D., 2007], p. 75).
The conclusion based on the Greek is Mary was graced in the past at the Immaculate Conception and the effect of that gracing continued through her life. Another proponent of this understanding is Father Mateo who states,
“The perfect stem of a Greek verb denotes ‘continuance of a completed action’; ‘completed action with a permanent result is denoted by the perfect stem.’ On morphological grounds, therefore, it is correct to paraphrase kecharitomene as ‘completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace” (Father Mateo, Refuting the Attack on Mary, [Catholic Answers, 1999], p. 21).
However, there are many reasons why this Roman interpretation is incorrect. First, the perfect does not require one take this gracing back to Mary’s birth. All it proves is that some time in the past she was graced or favored and the effect still remained at the time of the angelic greeting. It doesn’t demand she was graced or favored since her conception. As Eric Svendsen noted:
“the perfect tense speaks only of the current state of the subject without reference to how long the subject has been in that state, or will be in that state” (Eric Svendsen, Who is my Mother?: The Role and Status of the Mother of Jesus in the New Testament and Roman Catholicism, [Calvary Press, 2001], p. 129).
Svendsen then gives an example establishing the point:
“John 14:29: ‘I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.’ The word ‘told’ here is in the perfect tense, but certainly does not mean that Jesus has told them from the beginning of their lives, but rather that he just now told them. Cf. also Acts 7:56, 10:45, and Matt 13:46, all of which use the perfect tense, but none of which implies a permanent state or condition” (Eric Svendsen, Who is my Mother?: The Role and Status of the Mother of Jesus in the New Testament and Roman Catholicism, [Calvary Press, 2001], p. 304 n. 7).
Second, Colossians 1:23 says believers are to be grounded or in other words stable in their faith. The word for grounded is tethemeliōmenoi and it is in the same participle form kecharitōmenē is in Luke 1:28: the perfect passive participle. Is one to then conclude believers have been grounded or stable in their faith since their conceptions? Clearly not since people come to faith long after their births, often times when they are very old. Thus the perfect does not carry the theological weight many Catholics claim it does.
Third, the word kecharitōmenē [κεχαριτωμένη] in Luke 1:28 is the perfect participle form of the verb charitoō which means to grace. The reason why charitoō being in the perfect participle form does not prove the Roman idea that Mary was graced in the past with the Immaculate Conception is because the same word appears in the same verbal form of the perfect participle in the Greek LXX version of the 2nd century B. C. work Sirach 18:17 (Ignace de la Potterie, Biblical Exegesis: A Science of Faith, eds. José Granados, Carlos Granados, Luis Sánchez Navarro, Opening Up the Scriptures: Joseph Ratzinger and the Foundations of Biblical Interpretation, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008], p. 37; Eric Svendsen, Who is my Mother?, [Calvary Press, 2001], p. 303 n. 5). The verse reads,
“Lo, is not a word better than a gift? but both are with a gracious [κεχαριτωμένῳ] man” (Sirach 18:17).
If the perfect participle form of the word grace in Luke 1:28 proves Mary was graced at the Immaculate Conception, then it also proves the man in Sirach 18:17 was graced at his Immaculate Conception as well. Yet Catholics believe Mary was uniquely graced at conception in the same way Christ was.
It is because of things like this that Roman writers and scholars will actually admit this word kecharitōmenē does not even prove an Immaculate Conception. For example, Catholic writer Jimmy Akin who states,
“And so it’s [the Immaculate Conception] something that is consistent with and coheres with the use of the word kecharitomene there, but it’s not something that the word kecharitomene requires. This is a Greek term that you could use in that exact grammatical formation for someone else who wasn’t immaculately conceived” (James Akin, Catholic Answers Live, audio file downloaded from www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=4617).
Hence, although Roman writers are willing to admit the fact that Luke 1:28 does not firmly establish the Immaculate Conception (which is correct), many others refuse to admit the obvious and instead stick with the debunked idea that the verse demands the doctrine. For example, William Weary asserts the Immaculate Conception is “‘contained within’ the angel’s Annunciation greeting to her, ‘Hail, full of grace’ (Luke 1:28)” (William Weary, A Difficult, Daring Doctrine: The Immaculate Conception, ed. Peter M. Stravinskas, The Catholic Answer Book of Mary, [Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2000], p. 49). It is astonishing how Catholic writers who utilize more of a realist approach admit without second thought that the verse does not establish the Immaculate Conception since it is the best Rome has to offer concerning Scriptural support for this dogma. As Keating says: “Catholic exegetes, in discussing the Immaculate Conception, begin with the Annunciation” (Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians”, [Ignatius Press, 1988], p. 268).
It must now be asked: is Akin correct to infer that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is at least consistent with Luke 1:28?
To grant the verse doesn’t demand an Immaculate Conception but yet argue its consistent with the doctrine can be challenged since, using that reasoning, one must also then say because Colossians 1:23 says believers are to be "grounded" (perfect passive participle), this text is therefore consistent with the belief that all Christians have been grounded in the faith since their conception. No, that verse is not consistent with such an idea at all. Therefore the Roman reasoning fails at that point.
The Actual Meaning of Luke 1:28
The meaning of Mary being graced or favored in v. 28 is explained in v. 30 which says, “you have found favor with God.” Gabriel is simply telling her “she had been graced by God in that she has been chosen to bear God’s Son (1:31, 35)” (Robert H. Stein, Luke, The New American Commentary, [B&H Publishing Group, 1992], p. 82). It is a gracious gift or display of favour to be able to carry and give birth to God’s unique Son; the one who sits on the throne of David as King (v. 32). This is the extent of Gabriel’s identification of Mary with kecharitōmenē. God’s favor was upon Mary in that God Mary would bear Christ, and the effects of this favor or grace remained or continued since she would birth Him, raise Him, and witness the full effects of His divine advent and mission on the earth (vv. 31-33). It is in that sense that she could be said to be full of grace or highly favored.
This understanding is supported by v. 48 where Mary says, “for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). This means God looked on Mary’s “lowly social position” (Walter L. Liefeld, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version, [Zondervan, 1984], p. 836) and had pity on her thereby choosing to grace her or give her high favour (i.e., bless her) by allowing her to bear the Son of God. It is this matrix of truth found within the context which lies behind the phrase kecharitōmenē in v. 28, not some foreign imported idea which did not develop for almost one thousand years after Mary died (i.e., Immaculate Conception).
Another text used in support of the Immaculate Conception by papalism is Luke 1:42 where Elizabeth says the following to Mary:
“and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42).
Roman scholar Ludwig Ott offers a Roman interpretation,
“The blessings of God which rests upon Mary is made parallel to the blessing of God which rests upon Christ in his humanity. This parallelism suggests that Mary, just like Christ, was from the beginning of her existence, free from all sin” (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, [ TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960], p. 201).
However, such instances of double blessing in Scripture do not demand that both parties are blessed in the same way. For example in Genesis 14:19-20 we read, “19And he blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:19-20). By Catholic logic Abraham was blessed in the exact same ways God is: as God, King, Sovereign, Most High etc. What makes this all the more interesting is the Greek word for blessed in the LXX version of Genesis 14:19-20 is eulogeō, the same word used in Luke 1:42.
Second, in Ephesians 1:3 it is said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). If Rome is right then we must also infer from this text that believers are blessed in the same way God the Father is blessed: as God, King, Sovereign, Most High etc. However, no papist will be consistent and say such a thing. The same Greek word Luke 1:42 uses for “blessed” is used here as well.
Moreover, how far does one take Mary’s blessedness since Christ’s blessings extend far beyond sinlessness in Scripture? Luke 1:42 does not limit the blessing to sinlessness. So if one is going to say Mary is blessed like Christ, why stop at sinlessness? Is one going to say Mary, like Christ, is blessed in regards to all things being created for Him as Colossians 1:16 says? Is Mary, like Christ, blessed in that way whereby all people, animals, and creation belong to her? Clearly not. So to say Luke 1:42 proves Mary was blessed in the same way Christ was is specious.
The reason there is parallelism is not because Mary is blessed in the exact same way Christ is (i.e., with sinlessness etc), but because in this text Elizabeth is speaking poetically, or, singing a song in vv. 42-45. As William Hendriksen notes,
“The parallelistic structure of the lines, so characteristic of Hebrew and Aramaic poetry, the balanced form and contents of the neatly arranged clauses–note, for example:
Blessed are . . .
And blessed is . . .
And blessed is . . .
mark them as being indeed a poem; or if one prefers, a song, Elizabeth’s song. ‘Song’ here means metaphorical composition” (William Hendriksen, An Exposition of the Gospel of Luke, New Testament Commentary, [Baker Book House, 1978], p. 95).
Lastly, something similar is said in Luke 11:27 where a woman in the crowd blesses Mary in front of Christ: “As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed’!” (Luke 11:27). If Christ’s thinking was in line with the Roman interpretation of Luke 1:42 (i.e., Mary and Jesus are blessed equally), then we would expect Jesus to agree with the woman of the crowd and exalt His mother Mary. However, in the next verse we read: “But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28) demonstrating, as Svendsen notes, “he rejects the woman’s praise of Mary altogether. . .” (Eric Svendsen, Who is my Mother? The Role of and Status of the Mother of Jesus in the New Testament and Roman Catholicism, [Calvary Press, 2001], p. 156). In support of his position which is that Jesus was offering the woman in the crowd a corrective, he cites scholars such as the Catholic Raymond Brown, I. Howard Marshall, lexical sources, translations like the NASB and Catholic Douay-Rheims as well as various other materials.
A few paragraphs prior to the actual dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception in the 1854 bull Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX argued Genesis 3:15 established this doctrine. He stated, “the most holy Virgin, united with him [Christ] by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot” (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, Interpreters of the Sacred Scripture, italics and brackets mine). His quotation of Genesis 3:15 is quite different than the actual reading of the verse found in modern translations (including Catholic ones),
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Pius IX taught “she” (Mary) would crush the serpent’s head in light of her alleged immaculate conception. But the actual text says, “he will crush your head,” not “she.” It is necessary to then explain the history behind this vital difference in translation.
According to the Hebrew hū crushes the serpent’s head. This word can mean “he,” “she” or “it” depending on surrounding grammatical considerations. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon affirms “he” and not “she” or “it” is the correct option for Genesis 3:15 (Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2010], p. 215).
Moreover, Genesis 4:1 shows that Eve anticipated a male and not female offspring would crush the serpent’s head: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD’” (Genesis 4:1). This appears to be a positive exclamation indicating Eve inferred the 3:15 promise of a future seed who destroys Satan was fulfilled with Cain’s birth. Though incorrect about Cain, this does help us to know 3:15 refers to a male offspring crushing Satan’s head, not a female.
The Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures were translated into Greek in the 3rd or 2nd century B. C. This translation is known as the Septuagint or LXX. When it came to Genesis 3:15 the Greek-speaking pre-Christian Jews translated hū into the Greek word autos which means “he” not aute which is the word for “she.” Therefore, these Jews anticipated a single individual from Eve, a male specifically, who would crush Satan’s head. Thus the case for the rendering “he will crush your head” is strong historically and grammatically. There is no case to be made according to grammar for the rendering “she.” No serious scholars or modern translations attempt to.
Now that we have seen the evidence which vouches for a messianic interpretation concerning the crusher of Satan’s head it must be explained why it is Pius IX erroneously thought “she” (i.e., Mary) did the crushing in light of her Immaculate Conception. The western church father Jerome (A. D. 347 – 420) translated the Bible into a Latin translation called the Vulgate in the late 4th century. He erred and rendered Genesis 3:15 as ipsa (she) being the one who crushes the serpent’s head. Subsequently in the Douay-Reims Catholic Bible, which is an English translation of the Latin Vulgate, we read “she shall crush thy head.” Therefore, Pius IX, reflecting Jerome’s erroneous translation, erred and argued Mary crushed Satan’s head. This means his biblical arguments in the same bull leading up to his allegedly infallible dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception were specious. Yet, Rome wants people to believe the dogmatic definition itself is infallible.
This controversy was not unknown to Roman authorities of old. Romanist bishop Alphonsus Liguori (A. D. 1696 –1787) commented on this problem prior to Pius IX’s definition:
“She will crush your head: some question whether this refers to Mary, and not rather to Jesus, since the Septuagint translates it, He shall crush your head. But in the Vulgate, which alone was approved by the Council of Trent, we find She.” (Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary, (adapted), [Catholic Book Publishing, 1981], p. 88.)
The evidence shows what Genesis 3:15 means is God puts enmity between Satan and Eve, between Satan’s seed and Eve’s. Jesus, as Eve’s offspring, will crush Satan’s head and Satan will bruise Christ’s heal. Mary is not the one who crushes Satan’s head. This fact has been conceded by modern Rome. For example The Neo-Vulgate (Nova Vulgata) translation of the Bible authorized by the Vatican in 1979 changed the feminine ipsa into the neuter ipsum thereby correcting the Vulgate, and in turn, Pius IX. No longer do you have “she will crush his head.”
Conceding the argument the Catholic Encyclopedia remarks,
"The translation ‘she’ of the Vulgate is interpretative; it originated after the fourth century, and cannot be defended critically. The conqueror from the seed of the woman, who should crush the serpent's head, is Christ…” (Charles George Herbermann, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 7, [Universal Knowledge Foundation, 1913], p. 675)
In sum, Pius IX was incorrect about Mary crushing Satan’s head and based his dogma partially on that false opinion. The evidence supports the rendering “he.” Jerome’s erroneous decision to use the feminine pronoun ipsa in the Vulgate lies behind Pius IX’s error since that is the translation Pius IX was using. Yet, modern Catholic authorities and translations (Neo-Vulgate, RSV, NJB, NABRE) are willing to admit “she,” i.e., the a Marianic interpretation of the crusher of Satan’s head, is incorrect; a tacit admission on the part of such Catholics that Pius IX was in error in his arguments leading up to the dogmatic definition in Ineffabilis Deus. There is no basis in this text to claim, as Pope John Paul II did, that the texts refers to “the Immaculata crushing the serpent, not by her own power but through the grace of her Son” (John Paul II, Theotokos-Woman Mother, Disciple: A Catechesis on Mary, Mother of God, Pauline Books and Media, 2000], pp. 93-94).
Roman Re-Formulation of the Genesis 3:15 Argument
Since it is clear Mary does not crush the serpent’s head, Romanism has re-formulated its argument in an attempt to somehow keep Mary in Genesis 3:15. Now they say that although Mary is not the one who crushes Satan’s head, she is instead the woman who is at enmity with Satan and bears a seed (Christ) who crushes Satan’s head. Thus, in this view, one could read the text as follows: “and I will put enmity between Satan and Mary and between Satan’s seed and Mary’s seed: Jesus shall crush Satan’s head, and Satan shall bruise his heel.” For example Roman scholar Stephano M. Manelli offers his opinion: “the Mariological dimension in reference to the ‘woman’ must be also understood literally to be exclusive to that ‘woman,’ to Mary, that is, to the Mother of the Redeemer, and not to Eve” (Stephano M. Manelli, All Generations Shall Call me Blessed: Biblical Mariology, [Academy of the Immaculate Conception, 2005], pp. 23-24).
However, the context makes it clear Eve is the “woman” (Hb. hā·’iš·šāh) of Genesis 3:15, not Mary. The reference to “woman” is clearly Eve through out the chapter in the context of the same fall of man episode with Adam, Eve and the serpent in the garden (e. g. vv. 1-2, 4, 6, 12-13, 16). Therefore, when v. 15 mentions the “woman” in the same story, in God’s address to the serpent who had just deceived Adam and Eve, it is specious to claim Mary is all the sudden in view. Moreover, Eve’s assumption in Genesis 4:1 that her son Cain fulfilled what God promised in Genesis 3:15 (i.e., that her seed would crush the serpent’s head) proves it was immediately known the woman here is Eve, not Mary.
But then the Catholic retort it is this: Jesus is not Eve’s seed but Mary’s. Thus, Catholics say the woman has to be Mary. As Roman scholar Mark I. Miravalle argues, “Since the ‘seed’ of the woman is Jesus Christ, who is to crush Satan victoriously in the Redemption, then the woman must in fact refer to Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, from whom the seed of victory comes” (Mark I. Miravalle, Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion, [Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D., 2006], pp. 64-65). However, it is problematic to restrict the word “seed” (Hb. zera‛) to an immediate posterity and preclude the broader sense of an extended descendent. The word zera‛ can refer to the seed of someone many generations in the future. For example, in 2 Samuel 22:51 we read, “Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his seed forever.” Thus, David’s seed is spoken of in terms of future descendents until the end of time. It is not limited to his immediate offspring. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words notes the word can refer to “‘offspring’ or ‘descendents’ of an individual. At times zera‛ designates a single descendent” (William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, [Zondervan, 2006], p. 625 italics mine). The word is not restricted to immediate children but can apply to future descendents as well.
The New Testament also uses to term “seed” (Gk. spermatos) to extend further than an immediate offspring. For example, 2 Timothy 2:8 says, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the seed of David” (2 Timothy 2:8). Was Jesus David’s literal and immediate seed (i.e., his biological son)? Using Roman logic Jesus would have to be since the papal writers are not taking into the consideration the fact that the term can refer to future descendents.
In sum, there is no reason to deny the seed in Genesis 3:15 refers to one of Eve’s future descendents (Jesus). It is irresponsible to claim the seed must refer to the woman’s immediate child. That is just simply not the case according to the original language. The context is very clear that the enmity is between Satan and Eve, between Eve’s seed (Jesus) and Satan. The enmity is not between Satan and Mary, between Mary’s seed and Satan’s. Rome’s attempt at keeping Mary in Genesis 3:15 to try to prove the false doctrine of the Immaculate Conception despite being refuted on their first argument likewise misses the mark.